by Ritvik Dutta
With over 5 million cases in the first six months of its inception, the novel coronavirus has created a widespread state of panic around the world. From the rich to the poor, everyone is feeling the disastrous effects of this global pandemic. Nothing, however, feels the brunt of the blow any more than the many tourist attractions around the world and their affiliated businesses.
The economy of Hawaii has always thrived on the state’s tourist attractions, as tourism constituted 23% of the state’s economy up till the forced closures of American businesses and travel in March of 2020. In the light of recent events, the dependence on tourism to maintain a healthy economy has caused the devastating economic crash of many Hawaiian cities, with the statewide unemployment rate hovering around 22%. In fact, in March, the unemployment rate in the Kahului district in Maui, Hawaii, was around 2.2%. Now, however, this number has since been reported to have increased to around 35%, which is 10% higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression. In an interview conducted by ABC News, Carl Bonham, executive director of the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, commented that “Because [Hawaii relies] completely on air travel, when you shut down tourism with a 14-day quarantine and you go from 30,000 airline passengers per day to a few hundred, that’s a very different situation from a place that may still be getting some visitors by car.”
Although the current economic situation seems to be dire, the natural environment of Hawaii is surely improving. With apparent changes in the environment such as booming fisheries and healthier wildlife, officials are taking note and are currently in the process of pushing out a new system that renders tourism healthier and more feasible for the long-term survival of the Hawaiian environment. KUA, an organization determined to establish community-based natural resource management, has already compiled and pushed a list of possible post-quarantine changes to the state government in hopes of possible implementation. They hope that this period can be used to reassess and reset the environmental imbalance that has been left behind by the many years of heavy tourism within the state but ultimately concede that not all the Hawaiian islands will agree with the government’s decision and carry on life as they had before the pandemic.
In the end, the economic ruin felt by Hawaii has ushered in awareness of the detrimental effects of mass tourism within the state. In an interview conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Alfredo Coro, the vice mayor of the Philippines city of Del Carmen, commented on the overall internationally observed improvement of environmental health. He stated “I think it sheds a lot of light on the reality that maybe we should get back to the land and manage (it) properly so that we can take care of our people, rather than rely on outside sources.” Whether or not this reality is one that Hawaiians choose to pursue, however, remains left to be seen.